While violence in eastern Congo is worse than it has been in years, very few are reporting on these atrocities. This week political scientist, Laura Seay, delivered some much-needed perspective from Goma, a city at the heart of Congo’s war region. Read her excerpt from her Warscapes piece below.
A View From Goma (Excerpt)
By Laura Seay
GOMA, June 9: Goma has changed. What just a few years ago was a tense city under frequent rumors of impending invasion by armed groups is now generally at peace. Where eight feet of solid lava rock buried buildings along the city’s main street after a 2002 volcanic eruption, there is now a well-paved road, streetlights, and shiny new, three-story buildings housing banks, shops, and businesses of every kind. That is not to say that all is perfect; inflation runs rampant, most roads are still rocky messes, and petty crime is a major problem. But it seems that after more than a decade of suffering the effects of war, Goma is finally on an upward trajectory.
Goma’s recent prosperity is due in large part to the 2009 rapprochement between Democratic Republic of Congo president Joseph Kabila and Rwandan leader Paul Kagame. The agreement led to Rwanda’s arrest of renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda (whom most observers believe was backed by Rwanda in his years as leader of the CNDP rebel movement), the integration of Nkunda’s CNDP forces into the Congolese national army (the FARDC), and to a large decline in violence in the regions in which the CNDP had been operative. The CNDP did “integrate” to a certain extent, with its political wing becoming a legitimate political party and soldiers assuming FARDC ranks. However, the former rebel group also maintained parallel chains of command. Bosco Ntaganda - formerly Nkunda’s second-in-command and wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the use of child soldiers - assumed the so-called ex-CNDP’s military leadership, accepted rank in the FARDC, and became a major warlord in control of a substantial portion of North Kivu’s trade by taxing traffic on the road to Goma’s main border crossing into Rwanda.
While the situation after 2009 was far from ideal, the rapprochement mostly worked. To be sure, violence persisted in the Kivu provinces. The FDLR (a movement led by Rwandan Hutus who perpetrated the 1994 genocide) along with various local Mai Mai defense militias continued terrorizing civilians and fighting with the FARDC. But since signing the peace agreement, fighting between CNDP and FARDC forces ceased, calm was largely restored, and some displaced persons went home.
That all changed in April when a group of former CNDP troops in the FARDC mutinied. Shortly thereafter, Ntaganda fled Goma for his rural farm in the Masisi mountains northwest of Goma where full-scale fighting between the FARDC and the mutineers quickly broke out in the area. Residents of Masisi and neighboring Rutshuru territories fled. Within several weeks, the FARDC had pushed the mutineers to the mountains of Virunga National Park next to the Rwandan border. Despite three weeks of shelling by FARDC forces, the mutineers - who have since named themselves M23, after the March 23 signing of the 2009 CNDP integration agreement - are still holding out.
Laura Seay is an assistant professor of political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo Credit: Abby Ross